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Interview with Daniel Libeskind at Milan Design Week

Design correspondent James Haldane talks to Daniel Libeskind about the Where Architects Live exhibition and his Ice Chandelier

We are all familiar with the stereotype of what a famous architect’s own home might look like: minimal, white, complete with drawing board and designer furniture. The exhibition Where Architects Live at Milan Design Week aims to show us the reality; intimately profiling the homes and lives of nine architects, including Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind and Shigeru Ban. By examining these lives through photographs, videos and reconstructions, Curator Francesca Molteni and Davide Pizzigoni hope to unpick what it is that steers and triggers a designer’s decisions.

James Haldane: Could you tell me about the experience of having your work curated in Where Architects Live? How do you feel about efforts to exhibit architecture curatorially?

Daniel Libeskind: I think it’s great. It’s moving away from the mythology of architects and giving a chance to represent something – in my case it is not showing the interiors of my house but really how I see the house, my experiences, the different cities that are part of my ensemble of things. I thought it was an interesting and daring experiment.

JH: Do you think Where Architects Live was less of a spatial effort and more of a conceptual one?

DL: Spatially everybody had a booth, but you could see different characters, different roles, different ideas of what other people think is important.


A view of Daniel Libeskind’s home in Manhattan

JH: You say how you think architecture has this duty to enhance the user’s life intellectually, creatively and in all senses. Is that how you feel your own design ought to function?

DL: Definitely. I don’t even make the distinction between architecture and design. I don’t even understand what the word design is. Everything is architecture – everything is the built environment in a way, everything you do, everything that you touch is part of the spatial sense of the world of light. I don’t spend less time designing a small table than I spend meditating on designing a building. Of course a building is more complex, but design is always conceptual, there’s no hierarchy. Wherever you are is the centre of that world, when you’re at the door handle, that door is the centre of your world, you don’t care about the city being behind it.

JH: Looking at your chandelier design for Lasvit, can be installed as a modular system?

DL: Actually it’s a fractal system, a system that repeats itself at strange intervals. But it’s hand-blown, so each piece is deformed by the process, I think that gives the whole sub-geometry of the mathematical system a sort of human deformity which creates a sense of life. A mathematical system is being tamed by craft that is 100 years old. Rather than making it high-tech, go back to the traditional with this new system of order.


Libeskind’s hand-blown, modular chandelier design for Lasvit

JH: It has biomorphic references; it’s almost plant-like, a bisected stem.

DL: Of course, the mathematics of nature, whether DNA or skin, has that quality but it’s been cut and composed in such a way that it also has this necessary weight and elegance. And it’s flexible, you can combine them, reduce them, create a whole ceiling – I think there’s this flexibility and usefulness in these things.

JH: You compared criticism of your own work to the mixed reviews that Beethoven’s fifth symphony received. Can you tell me about that?

DL: I wasn’t comparing myself to Beethoven. I think almost all things when they were first presented were considered stupid or ugly, like the first modular house. Mozart, Beethoven, Proust, Joyce, the world is based on conventions, something new comes along and it’s going to provoke these reactions. But there’s a quote from the New Testament – ‘Woe to you when all men speak well of you’.  It’s ancient knowledge – be careful if everyone likes what you’re doing.


A sketch exploring the ‘7 Stations of Libeskind’ as part of the ‘Where Architects Live’ exhibition


Making tangible Libeskind’s “world of light”, his new glass desk for Fiam Italia


Form over function? Libeskind’s bookshelf design for Poliform


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